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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

Tagore’s Bharat Mata to come out of the closet

Snigdhendu Bhattacharya , Hindustan Times  Kolkata, September 24, 2013
First Published: 09:54 IST(24/9/2013) | Last Updated: 10:02 IST(24/9/2013)

Bharat Mata, arguably the most famous painting by Abanindranath Tagore and the one that Sister Nivedita wanted to carry from Kashmir to Kanyakumarika, is slated for a public appearance in a few months after remaining locked up in the custody of Rabindra Bharati Society (RBS) for several decades.

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The authorities at Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH) are planning an exhibition of Abanindranath paintings in their galleries early next year, which would feature Bharat Mata, now in the custody of VMH for restoration.

“We’ve digitised the painting and restoration will start soon. We plan to hold an exhibition of Abanindranath Tagore’s paintings from the collections of VMH and RBS in February 2014. Bharat Mata will be a part of that exhibition,” Jayanta Sengupta, secretary and curator of VMH, told HT.

Sengupta said VMH would finalise plans in consultation with RBS and that the combined collection of both the institutions would take the number of paintings to about 80.

Besides Bharat Mata, the exhibition would feature a painting titled Shahjahan, in the collection of VHM, and another titled The Passing of Shahjahan, in the collection of Rabindra Bharati.

Bharat Mata, Abanindranath Tagore’s 1905 work is one of the landmark paintings of the Bengal school.

It depicts a saffron-clad young woman, dressed like a sadhvi, holding a book, sheaves of paddy, a piece of white cloth and a mala in her four hands.

It became immensely popular among the nationalists in those days, especially in the wake of Lord Curzon’s plan to bifurcate Bengal.

It was at this time that the nationalist movement reached such a point where, even in the sphere of art, European influence was being abandoned and Indian artists started looking to the East for cultural inspiration.

According to art historian Sushovan Adhikary, Bharat Mata has immense importance because of its emotional and historical value.

“It was among the first phase of paintings by Abanindranath when he was developing his own style. Besides, it served a great role in conceptualisation of the idea of Bharat Mata,” he said.

This painting had influences from European watercolour, Japanese drawing and Mughal miniatures, and yet stood as a signature painting of Abanindranath, he added. It was one of the first paintings when Tagore was shifting from watercolour to wash and tempera as mediums.

Sengupta pointed out that this painting had changed the previous concept of Mother India. He said until this painting, Bharat Mata was conceptualised as a powerful mother who protects her children.

“But this painting created the appeal of a mother who needed to be protected by her children,” Sengupta said.

It was at this time that the nationalist movement reached such a point where, even in the sphere of art, European influence was being abandoned and Indian artists started looking to the East for cultural inspiration.

According to art historian Sushovan Adhikary, Bharat Mata has immense importance because of its emotional and historical value.

“It was among the first phase of paintings by Abanindranath when he was developing his own style. Besides, it served a great role in conceptualisation of the idea of Bharat Mata,” he said.

This painting had influences from European watercolour, Japanese drawing and Mughal miniatures, and yet stood as a signature painting of Abanindranath, he added.

It was one of the first paintings when Tagore was shifting from watercolour to wash and tempera as mediums.

Sengupta pointed out that this painting had changed the previous concept of Mother India.

He said until this painting, Bharat Mata was conceptualised as a powerful mother who protects her children.

“But this painting created the appeal of a mother who needed to be protected by her children,” Sengupta said.


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